Negative body image problems often start in childhood and can haunt you for the rest of your life. I remember not wanting to have my picture taken, or wanting to see pictures of myself. It wasn't uncommon of me to completely ignore photos of myself, or to make sure I wasn't in the shot at all. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I began to realize that not only is my body size and shape normal, but it's beautiful, too. I started to really care about myself; I ate healthier, I exercised more, and I tried to manage stress. It was as if I began to feel that I was worth it. My body image shifted from “too fat to be photographed” to “happy and healthy.”
Many adults feel negatively about their bodies, and the problem has gotten worse in recent decades. According to questionnaires gathered by Psychology Today over a few decades, those in the 1970's were not necessarily happy with their bodies, but were happier with their bodies than those polled in the late 1980's. Dissatisfaction has continued to grow since, leaving many adults (both men and women) with at least a little bit of body worries.
We can't reverse the messages we received in childhood, but we can work to change the attitudes we currently have. The first step is to recognize where all the judgment comes from. As humans, we want to study, evaluate, and compare, and this includes comparing ourselves with others. We want to be like them, or unlike them, or better than them. However, we also need to recognize that there are only so many ways a body can be molded by natural means. We need to understand that we will never be like that actress, model, or woman next door that never gains weight and doesn't seem to age. We need to recognize that we can't be someone else, because we are ourselves. We have a unique set of genes that account for at least 25% (and possibly as much as 70%) of how our body looks. Taking it one step further, we need to understand that there is nothing wrong with being the unique individuals that we are.
Although there is only so much we can change about our bodies, it's not a good idea to look at our shape merely as something we are stuck with. Instead, think of the body as just a part of what makes a whole person. Explore and examine both the physical self and the emotional self, and remember that a person is more than a size or a shape.
Another point that we need to recognize is that our negative self-image is often wrong. We imagine ourselves as being much uglier than we actually are, and many of our flaws are imaginary or blown out of proportion. To make matters worse, the more we worry about our appearance, the more time we spend in front of a mirror, the more flaws we find, the more we worry, and round and round it goes. A good starting place to stop this negative self-talk is to look at others and work on truly accepting them where they are in the range of physical beauty. Remember, what society deems “beautiful” changes over time. Many “great beauties” of previous generations would be considered “fat” or “ugly” by today's standards. Society’s aesthetics are a fickle thing, and working on accepting others may help you accept yourself.
Of course, many people know by now about the diets Hollywood stars go on before filming, as well as about all the Photoshop work that's done to models in magazines. It's easy to forget, though, and it's easier to start comparing again. Remember that only so much of what you see is “real” or healthy. Keep in mind that media portrayals are just that. Health and reality often look much different than what is in the media.
Finally, tap into inner beauty. It sounds trite, and like something your grandmother would say, but it's true. Do some soul searching and come to a place where you are okay with you. Make the decision to be happy where you are, right now. Make friends with your body, and you will see more clearly.